Luke 9:51-62: Resistance is Futile
By Rev. Dr. Karyn L. Wiseman
In the Methodist tradition in which I was I raised, there is a concept of perfection. We "strive for perfection" in loving each other and loving God. It is not about avoiding all mistakes. It is about growing in love for neighbor and being hospitable to all we come in contact with. This is the point of our theology: as we grow in faith and love, we become closer to God. In the end, resisting God's call to love others is pretty hard to do.
And yet we know not everyone we meet is irresistible. We all have moments when some folks are harder to love than others. Sometimes those we find difficult to love are members of our own families. Other times they are friends we've had a conflict with. And for some of us, they are hard to love simply because of whom the other person loves.
A highly anticipated and significant moment in US cultural history has occurred this week. The Supreme Court ruled on two pivotal same sex marriage cases. The Defense of Marriage Act (known as DOMA) was struck down as being unconstitutional. Moments later, California's Proposition 8 was dismissed as well. The Supreme Court ruled that in the Prop 8 case, there was no standing for the court to decide the case so the lower court ruling, that it was unconstitutional, stands.
Many have been eagerly anticipating these decisions. Some were hoping against hope that the Court would make history and allow all couples to be treated equally in the eyes of the law regardless of their sexual orientation. But others have been hoping and praying that the court would maintain the status quo because they are concerned that a change in this definition will prove damaging to society. Despite surging acceptance of marriage quality over the past ten years, the divide on this issue remains significant. The pull in either direction is far from irresistible to the opposing side.
History clearly seems to be moving in the direction of social justice. And for many it is about time. Equality is one of the planks on which this nation was founded. Justice is a central orientation of most faith traditions.
And so I have always loved the Gospel of Luke because of its focus on social justice. With its many depictions of Jesus in ministry with the marginalized, Luke is the most socially aware of the Gospel accounts. The counter-cultural Messiah that Luke proclaims is one who moves me into action. This gospel is about ministry to the last, the least, the lost, and the left-behind. And there is resistance in that.
In Luke 9:51-62, we seem to have a call story of sorts, but actually this is a story of resistance to the call to discipleship. In the first part of this passage, Jesus' message is resisted by the Samaritans. And in the second part, Jesus' own disciples continue to find his turn toward Jerusalem and his death hard to accept.
Even with Jesus' time on earth growing short and his message becoming more urgent, the disciples nonetheless resisted his call for love and acceptance. Resistance wasn't new then, and it isn't now. We still resist change, resist persons who are different from ourselves, resist new ideas, resist difficult concepts or options, and even resist the message from Jesus to be the loving disciples he calls us to be.
This week's rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 will of course find resistance - some of it extreme. For me, the court deciding anything but full equality would have been a massive blow. I celebrate equality and wept for joy when the news of the rulings came. Many others like me, whose faith is oriented around a social-justice that yearns for full equality, will join me in that celebration.
For others with different theological and political perspectives, these decisions will be a difficult test, and they will struggle to accept them. I pray for their comfort and consolation.
So what does the text say to us that might be helpful in the midst of so many contrary positions?
For me, this Gospel reading speaks volumes about hospitality, resistance, and moving forward. Resistance happens. But so does the call of justice. And for me, that call is irresistible, irreversible, and always moving forward.
In the passage, Jesus calls for us to keep our eyes forward while our hands are on the plow. Jesus is moving toward the fulfillment of his mission (that is, his death and resurrection), and he does not look anywhere but forward toward his mission on earth.
Today, this forward movement continues with the decisions of the court. And in our culture, resistance should be expected. Even if justice is delayed or denied by the court, resistance and continued movement toward justice will advance. As Martin Luther King said not so long ago, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
Those in our number who search for full equality for all persons - regardless of one's sexual orientation, race, gender, economic status, or other factors - will keep their hands on the plow and keep moving forward. For others, they will do as they feel led. Do I agree with them? No. Do I understand their motivations? Yes, to some degree. I fully expect that folks of differing opinions will continue to struggle with each other. There may be no other way to reach an equal and just treatment of all people.
And yet in the midst of all this dissension, I support the freedom to marry and full equality for all. I support marriage equality because of my faith not in spite of it. And in that call to justice and in everything I have come to know about faith, I trust that resistance indeed is futile.
Dr. Karyn L. Wiseman is the Associate Professor of Homiletics at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. She is an Elder in The United Methodist Church and has eighteen years of experience pastoring churches. Her degree is in Liturgical Studies, with major study in Preaching and the Emerging Church. She is especially interested in engaging the 21st century church for vital ministry, equipping established communities to take on new models for church, and employing postmodern ideas to reengage younger generations in preaching and worship. Dr. Wiseman has a book coming out in Fall of 2013 on preaching from Pilgrim Press.
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